On Undercurrents, and assorted rushed fragments


From Undercurrents: A Life Under the Surface, by Martha Manning:

Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern. Just the slow erosion of the self, as insidious as any cancer. And, like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience. A room in hell with only your name on the door.

For nearly two years now, this quote has been kept in my moldering cell phone’s drafts folder. I brandish Manning’s words when only defiance can save me, or if I am in particular need of a ready, smug response, albeit borrowed. Here are the words. They are not mine. I wouldn’t say that, no, but this will have to do.


I found this book by accident. I recognized the spine without me knowing that it was of a book I’d wanted for a really long time.


It’s a strange thing, approaching literature dealing with depression when one has, for months now, felt confident that one does not currently have depression. Or, well, not as present a depression. I have dysthymia—I will always have this; the woman in light green spoke of wavelengths—and I have been wary of anything triggering the depression’s strengthened presence. Will reading this make me sad? is the question to every book that involves a character who is so much more than sad. I must not invite sadness. And when some sadnesses come unannounced, they must be scrutinized: a moment of extreme solitude in a roomful of friends and supposed joys—even boredom, the inability to hold a book until its end, those moments upon waking when you dread having to function. I give myself passes: You are allowed to skip work today; that commercial was so schmaltzy, of course you’d cry; there are too many people on this train, you’re allowed to feel unbearably weary; this book is so tedious, not even the prospect of lacerating it with snark proves exciting for you; you can go back to sleep, yes, you can.


A few months ago, I started The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. I went into it the way some people would religion. This was going to be a bible. This was going to hold the answers. Or it would hold my hand. Or it would prepare me. I would simply know more. Do I do that with every book about depression that I encounter? Yes, I believe so.


This copy of Undercurrents has a child’s scribbles. The heavy press of pencil, the graphite grooves gleaming. Aimless: just lines flashing and pointing. I, of course, imagine that a mother must have read this. Her toddler must have disturbed this book from its place, trying to control a stub of pencil. Mother must have rescued the book, panicked at the defacement—or a sharp object so close to her child’s too-soft skin. Or maybe the child must have soon walked away, and the book drifted shut, to be found much later beneath the living room center table, when it was time to move out, and things no longer needed must be put in boxes and dropped into chainlinked stores.


In my third year of college, my Ethics professor’s assistant killed himself. The starchy Jesuit spoke of bravery, of courage: “Suicide isn’t cowardice. It takes supreme courage to stand up to life, to say that you rid of it. To take the choice away from Death.” The glasses folded on the table. Our Foucaults and Platos shut. The next weekend, the class planted trees. I don’t remember this dead boy’s name, but I remember how he died, I remember the Jesuit’s speech. Whenever I’d pass the plot of land, I’d tell whoever I was with, We planted trees for the dead boy. And they’d be in awe of the Jesuit’s heart.

5 thoughts on “On Undercurrents, and assorted rushed fragments

    1. Thank you, Sakura. There are too many books like that in my shelves, but I find that, over time, I’ll drift toward them. I’m fanciful enough to think that something in my bones knows what books to read, even if I struggle myself.

      I hope you have many books like this in your life, even if they are painful, even if they keep us silent for a long time afterward.


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